After two seasons of NBC’s Hannibal, you’ve probably had friends try to convince you to watch, read critics sing its praises, or seen a near-infinite number of GIFs from the show on Tumblr.
All that may finally be enough to convince you that it’s time to watch Bryan Fuller’s beloved adaptation—but with season 3 getting off to a great start this Thursday, you’re looking for a crash course in all things Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham.
So if you can’t find the time to watch the first two seasons in full, EW’s here to help with the five episodes you can’t miss from the last two years. (That said, here’s one major caveat: If you have the time, you should absolutely watch both seasons, currently currently streaming on Amazon Instant Video. You can brush up on the basics and understand the gist of the show so far by watching just these vital episodes, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not watching two incredible seasons of television in full.)
With that in mind, here are the five episodes of Hannibal you have to see before the season 3 premiere.
“Apéritif” (Season 1, Episode 1)
It may seem like a given, but the pilot of Hannibal is important for so many reasons—and not just because it’s where everything begins. From minute one, David Slade’s direction establishes the show’s dazzling visuals and knack for finding beauty in the most horrific of scenes. And Bryan Fuller’s script, combined with Mads Mikkelsen’s performance, immediately differentiates this memorable incarnation of Hannibal Lecter from Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning portrayal, even as it fills out his world with a number of other fascinating faces. Chief among them is Will Graham, who gives Hannibal a truly worthy opponent, enemy, and friend.
“Entrée“ (Season 1, Episode 6)
Will and Hannibal may receive most of the adoration heaped on Hannibal’s cast—but the show has also created a consistently rich well of supporting characters, if not one that’s particularly deep. One of the most memorable is Eddie Izzard’s Dr. Abel Gideon, an instrumental figure in the back-and-forth of the show’s central relationship. “Entrée” introduces not only Gideon, but also Anna Chlumsky as Miriam Lass, a Clarice Starling-esque character who plays a brief but important role in the series’ ongoing mythology. Both characters are essential to understanding the mind games—and deadly physical games—being played amaong Will, Hannibal, and Jack Crawford.
“Kaiseki“ (Season 2, Episode 1)
Season 2’s first episode could have played it safe by picking up from where season 1 ended, immediately showing us Will’s new life behind bars. Instead, it opens up with a bare-knuckle brawl between Hannibal and Jack Crawford. No explanation is given, and the show backtracks to weeks earlier, leaving this gripping but enigmatic fight unresolved for the entire season. “Kaiseki” continues to upend expectations, almost soft rebooting the show as Hannibal and Will explore their new roles.
“Yakimono” (Season 2, Episode 7)
In many ways, season 2 could have ended with “Yakimono” and still delivered a satisfying conclusion. The midway point of the season is an important bookend to “Entrée,” bringing Miriam back into the fold after viewers assumed her fate had long ago been decided. “Yakimono” is Hannibal dealing with the fragility of its characters’ mental states, from Miriam’s fraught condition to a haunting scene at Dr. Frederick Chilton’s house. The episode exemplifies Hannibal’s deft handling of narrative—picking up threads long-forgotten and offering a fitting end while maintaining momentum for the main arc.
“Mizumono“ (Season 2, Episode 13
There’s a reason EW named “Mizumono” one of the most tense, anxiety-inducing hours ever aired on television: This season finale is Hannibal firing on all cylinders. Every facet of the show is running at its peak, from the performances to the soundtrack (which practically never ceases) to the gorgeous final sequence, which brings harrowing conclusions to plots that have lingered since season 1. “Mizumono” leaves every major character’s fate up in the air, capping off an hour that encapsulates everything beautiful, horrifying, engrossing, and powerful about Hannibal.